Cooperation, communication imperative for improved shop scheduling

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Service workload prioritization is discussed during a technical session at the TMC Annual Meeting Tuesday in Atlanta.Service workload prioritization is discussed during a technical session at the TMC Annual Meeting Tuesday in Atlanta.

Want to get your truck out of the shop and back on the road faster? The panelists at Tuesday’s tech session at ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) Annual Meeting in Atlanta say it’s possible.

There’s no way to totally eliminate service lag times, but with open communication, honesty and information sharing, fleets and their service provider partners say excess time can be shaved off a lot of repairs.

Nussbaum Transportation’s Tony Morthland said one thing he’s learned over the years about managing  downtime is it’s a lot easier to catch a break from a service provider you know than one you’ve never met. That’s why he takes time each year to travel the Midwest and meet with Nussbaum’s most common dealer partners. Morthland said he knows he can’t meet everyone — you never know where the next breakdown is going to be, and which service shop will be closest — but Nussbaum’s data indicates the shops the fleet has the strongest relationship with are typically the ones that turn their trucks around fastest.

Benny Whitehead said strong relationships with his dealer partners has helped his fleet prosper and grow as well. On stage Tuesday with Scott Dixon from dealer partner Four Star Freightliner, Whitehead said Four Star’s attentiveness to his fleet’s needs enables the carrier to outsource more service work without fear. Like any fleet, Whitehead says his goal is to leverage comprehensive in-house preventive maintenance (PM) programs so he doesn’t have to outsource maintenance at all, though he admits it’s reassuring to know when the company does have to outsource breakdown and complicated service work that a trusted provider like Four Star is nearby.

Dixon says that’s a responsibility the dealer group doesn’t take lightly. He says Four Star hosts a call with the fleet and Freightliner every week to discuss the relationship, enabling the parties to address any issues immediately before they can fester and keep the relationship strong. The parties also use the meeting to discuss ongoing service events and schedule future repairs.

“We try to schedule everything we can,” Dixon says. “When [fleets] schedule service we know we have to make time for it.”

And regular dialogue is especially important when working to reduce service dwell time, says Travis Dunn with Truck Centers Inc., one of Nussbaum’s largest dealer partners. Dunn says Truck Centers works hard to educate its service staff about the importance of openness with all facets of a repair and encourages Nussbaum and its other customers to do the same. He says a service provider who fails to immediately inform a fleet when a service event is delayed not only does that customer a disservice but also negatively impact’s the fleet’s customer. He says the goal for any service shop, whether it’s found in a fleet terminal or a dealership, should be to keep trucks out of service bays as much as possible.

But Dunn also notes and the panelists agree that service communication isn’t a one-way street. He says any information a fleet can provide a service shop ahead of a service event, whether scheduled or impromptu, will aid the service provider in prioritizing the work and reducing the truck’s dwell time. This can include diagnostic information, historical maintenance records and turnaround expectations.

“It makes a huge difference for us instead of going in blind,” he says.

Morthland adds it’s also a good idea for fleets to be selective about what service is outsourced whenever possible. He says fleets have a right to be frustrated when a service provider fails to complete a repair on time but says they shouldn’t expect their trucks to move to the top of a service provider’s queue every time they have a problem. Service providers are busy, too, and occasionally even the best partner will have a backlog.

Morthland and Whitehead say they are understanding of that so long as the dealer is honest without about what their wait time is likely to be.

“When we send our trucks to the dealer we try to get them in and out as fast as possible, and we want to know what to expect,” Whitehead says.

Morthland adds, “When we have an issue is when a vendor gets the truck in and diagnoses the problem and tells us they’ll get it in this afternoon. Then we don’t hear anything and call them and they say they’ll get it in tomorrow morning and so on. We can’t plan when they do that.”